Battle of the Hatpins — Women of Local History

Battle of the Hatpins — Women of Local History


On January 1, Alexandre Clairoux posted this photo on Abandoned Ottawa- Gatineau site of an old schoolhouse built in 1915. He mentioned it could have possibly accommodated the Franco-Ontariens population. The idea behind these schoolhouses was to reform the school system since teachers weren’t getting paid.

Okay, what’s the story here?
Apparently the story has been written many times, but I still decided to document it.


Regulation 17, for those who do not know, was an act of the Ontario government in 1912, whereby the French schools of the province were ordered to stop teaching in French. This rule imposed a common law on all the schools in Ontario, and bottom line was only one hour a day was allotted to teaching in French. It became strictly enforced beginning in 1915–1916, and pitted local citizens against each other. Then it got worse.

On April 29, 1914, a group of English-language Catholic school commissioners obtained an injunction against the Catholic School Commission and paralyzed all administrative efforts, which was the paying of teachers and the right to borrow. This resulted in the bilingual teachers not being paid for several months and the Guiges school on Murray Street remaining closed.

Just like today, excuses were tossed back and forth. Some said the predominant reason for this law was for the concerns over the ‘quality of education” being taught in Ontario schools. “Quality” meaning that the bulk of teachers teaching in French were actually the nuns who had been summoned directly from Quebec. They argued that the nuns had none of the teacher’s education the Ontario teachers had. In plain words:they just were not good enough.


After years of battles on May 12, 1916 Parliament, by a vote of 107 to 60 rejected the motion moved by Mr. Ernest Lapointe and supported by Sir Wilfred Laurier, for mediation by the Dominion Parliament in the Bilingual School dispute in Ontario. 
Lapointe’s argument was not to get rid of bilingual schools. The solution was to create institutions and teacher’s colleges geared towards fulfilling the need of this bilingual school system.The Honorable ? Frank Oliver opposed the Federal House taking part in any of the provincial matter –and that was that.


When the class year opened in the fall of 1915 at the Gigues School the parents of Lower Town tried to prevent the school board from installing teachers who had promised to “teach by the rules”. The parents wanted two young French-Canadian teachers: Diane and Beatrice Desloges to teach their children, but of course the board wanted nothing to do with them and only use their own appointees.

Well enough was enough and the two sisters, supported by the parents, defied the regulation requiring them to teach in English, moved their classes to two empty stores at the corner of Dalhousie and Guigues streets and resumed their classes without pay.

In the meantime, the teachers hired by the board sat in the now empty rooms of Guigues School. That was until early 1916, Tuesday, January 4th, 1916 to be exact. The store fronts were unsuitable for instruction in winter which prompted parents to invite the Desloges back to the school to teach in January 1916. The Lower Town parents marched on the school, forcing the government teachers out and placed guards out front.


“Les gardiennes de l’école Guigues d’Ottawa”, 1916

Photo courtesy of the University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture (CRCCF). Diane and Béatrice Desloges are seated third and fourth in the front row. Photo courtesy of the University of Ottawa, Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture (CRCCF).

The guards were actually the 70 Francophone mothers who prevented inspectors from entering by using their long hat pins, kitchen utensils etc. as weapons. They had enough:  enough of barricades, and enough of politicians telling them how to educate their children. At nine o’clock, the students’ mothers came and ordered the children to accompany their teachers back to Guigues School where they enjoyed a triumphant re-entry.


The mothers established themselves as permanent “Guardians” of the school and used all the tricks they could conjure to thwart their adversaries to turn away some school inspectors. Many of the women carried little “Sacred Heart” flags. These were no dainty women. Constable Young waved one of these flags, but it immediately was snatched away from him and a woman struck him with her fist.

The classrooms of the Misses Desloges were closely guarded by groups of strong women and men. The rooms were at opposite ends of the corridors on the second floor– but all the floors and stairways were choked by a surging throng of people to help. The 30 police looked on but did not attempt to put any one out.

On Friday, January 7th, there was a turn of events: inside the school, the police were waiting for the Desloges sisters and their “guardians” to try and prevent them from entering the building.  Some parents, both men and women, managed nevertheless to gain access to the school with a group of pupils. They, in turn, allow the Desloges sisters to enter the school through a side window.

Detective Oilmet and Detective Tissot had been on duty outside the building for some time. Things began to look ugly and a hurried call was sent in to the police station for more police. They arrived on a street car, about eight in number, and marched down to the accompaniment of hoots and jeers. These policemen, with Detective Thomas McLaughlin, entered the school and took up positions inside.

If the police were sent down with the intention of preventing the people from entering the school it was a useless mission because the building was now filled by hundreds of men and women, besides the classes which were going on. The Misses Desloges were placed at the head of their classes and one of them opened the classroom window facing Murray street and waved her hand to the crowd below. This was a signal for more cheering.


School children protesting against Regulation 17 in front of Brébeuf school, Anglesea square in the Ottawa Lower Town district at the end of January or the beginning of February 1916-Click

One man named Verrot was taken into custody for being particularly demonstrative, but he was let go when he reached the police station. In the meantime Police Constable Coombs was bitten on the thumb by an infuriated woman and Commissioner Charbonneau was the centre of attraction. In the hall of the school on the top floor police began ejecting women. Immediately Mr. Charbonneau informed the crowd that he was going to tender his resignation– a wise move if I must say so. This lasted until  Feb. 3, when the school closed its doors, and the children paraded in the streets bearing signs reclaiming the use of French.

There were many legal manoeuvres, including a lawsuit aimed at jailing the elected commission’s president, who was flaunting the will of the appointed commission. The Christian Brothers appeared in court as witnesses for the elected commission. Two brothers named Francis and Theophilus, who, as school principals, risked going to jail rather than expose the elected commission’s secretary.

As a result of the Battle of the Hatpins, the government abandoned efforts to prevent French-language teaching at Guigues. Bilingual schooling in Ontario was officially reinstated in 1927. Canadian archivist Michel Prévost suggested that this protest represented “a movement dominated by women” which was rare given their marginalization at the time.

Gigues school is no longer a place for education and now houses condominiums. Every building and every person has a story and it needs to be told and remembered. On January 29, 1916, francophone mothers stood outside an Ottawa elementary school  in the dead of winter. These women prevented inspectors from entering with only hatpins and rolling pins. Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women– no matter what the issue is. (Maya Angelou)

I will raise my hatpin on January 29

NDP MPP France Gélinas introduced a private member’s bill to have every January 29 officially recognized as Battle of the Hatpins Day last year.

From Historica Canada— comes this video


Patricia Foottit My mother , Marie Francoise Noel de Tilly and her twin sister, Marie Louise, were born in 1919 in Montreal. They came to Ottawa around the age of six, and attended French Catholic schools in Ottawa. My mom would tell stories about her education, and being taught in French but having to hide the French texts when the inspectors came to the school. She had a deep faith, and loved the Sisters who taught her. Even in her 90s, she could remember the names of those women. Mom and her sister went on to become teachers

Did you know?

The newspaper Le Droit, which is still published today as the province’s only francophone daily newspaper, was established by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate in 1913 to oppose the ban


Ottawa Journal Photo

Guigues School closed in June 1978 due to declining enrolment and increasing building maintenance costs. The end of an era is at hand at Ecole Guigues, one of Ottawa’s oldest elementary schools. Before long the three-storey structure cn Murray Street will be empty of students forever. Because of declining enrolments and the age of the building, the Ottawa Separate School Board is transferring Guigues students to nearby Routhier School on Guigues Street, which is undergoing repairs.

In its heyday, Guigues School accommodated up to 1,000 students but it wasn’t until 1970 that the school admitted girls as students. No date has been fixed for the move but school board officials say it will probably be sometime early in 1979. When the 250 students leave the classrooms of Guigues School, they will be leaving behind an illustrious and often embattled history dating to 1864.The remaining students were transferred to nearby École Routhier. The Centre de services Guigues was officially opened on May 30, 1997. That same year, the project was awarded the City of Ottawa’s Architectural Conservation Award of Excellence for Adaptive Reuse. Read all about it here–CLICK

Bill 164, Battle of the Hatpins Day Act: NDP MPP France Gélinas wants every Jan. 29 remembered as Battle of the Hatpins Day. It would commemorate an incident on Jan. 29, 1916, when Franco-Ontarian women pushed back school inspectors from entering a school and shutting it down for teaching French, which was illegal in Ontario at the time. The bill passed first reading.

Apology and resistance

A hundred years later, in making her apology for Regulation 17, Kathleen Wynne dismissed the idea of compensation or reparations: she claimed the province is already making “concrete gestures” by providing French services and schools, and argued there is even a “debate” about creating a French university in Ontario.


Several Shades of Christina Gray –Home for Friendless Women in Ottawa

Dark Moments in Ottawa History- Porter Island

The Trouble With Trying to be Normal– The Ottawa Normal School

Was it the Germans Or UFO’s that Invaded the Ottawa Valley in 1915?

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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